Football

Stuck in the Middle

The 2013 season has been hailed as a

potential “victory lap” for Mack Brown. But with the hiring of

Larry Porter and the promotion of Major Applewhite, are we seeing a

natural culmination of a career or is Texas simply stuck halfway in a

transition to a completely different football program?
Major Applewhite didn’t wait long to

exercise his new-found authority.

Less than a week after offensive

coordinator Bryan Harsin’s departure and Applewhite’s promotion, the new OC interrupted a post-practice speech by Mack Brown the mete out a bit of accontability. According to a team source, “there was

a percentage (of players) that simply wasn’t looking Mack in the

eye and paying attention to what Mack was saying. In the middle of

Mack’s speech, Major interrupted Mack out of the blue and started

screaming at the kids. He said something along the lines of, ‘This is

your coach, you look him in the bleeping eye when he’s talking to

you, or you’re not going to be here anymore.’ Major then went on to

have all of the kids run sprints to end practice and continued to

make them run these sprints until ‘they got it right.’”

It’s a mentality also reflected in

Applewhite’s comments following the Longhorns’ 31-27 win in the Alamo

Bowl: “It’s not about the Xs and Os, it’s really about just the

culture of our program and demanding more of our guys, demanding more

of our coaches, strength coaches, trainers, just getting guys

tougher, and that’s where we’re going to improve as a ball club.”

Given the speed at which he exercised

his authority, it’s probably not a coincidence that the arc of the

Alamo proceeded as if Major Applewhite was playing quarterback for

the Longhorns. David Ash’s passing stats for the first three

quarters: 12 of 22 passing, 95 yards, no touchdowns and one

interception. Fourth-quarter: 9 of 11, 146 yards, two touchdowns, no

INTs. It was reminiscent of Applewhite’s 2001 Holiday Bowl, when – after three second-quarter interceptions – he led the

Longhorns 27 fourth-quarter points.

In similar fashion, against the Beavers

the Horns overcame a lack of an interior running game, chaos on the

offensive line, nine UT penalties to Oregon State’s two, a blocked

field goal and zero backup quarterbacks (Alex, you got your one

throw; let us never speak of it again). It was a completely different

team from the one that looked so inept at the State Fair that Big Tex

self-immolated in disgust.

But even with the dramatic

philosophical shift, former UT quarterback Applewhite can still be

sold as a “Mack Brown” guy. A very different picture is painted

by Wednesday’s hiring of Larry Porter as Texas’

running backs coach.

As far as his resume is concerned, Porter is a fine hire. He’s had success as a coach –

managing both individual stars and committees of running backs –

and been even more successful as a recruiter, consistently stealing

top talent from Texas while at Oklahoma State and LSU. He was even

hailed as Rivals’ “Recruiter of the Decade.” But according to

Larry Porter, Larry Porter also has ties to infamous street agent

Willie Lyles.

The Texas Longhorns of three years ago

would not have pursued Porter, regardless of qualifications. Such an

un-Mack Brown hire opens questions about the future of Texas

football.

Over the past couple years, Brown has

frequently pointed to 2013 as the target season for all the pieces to

fall into place in terms of chemistry, experience, leadership and

talent. But these recent changes on the coaching staff are also

distinct moves away from a “Mack Brown” football team. Based on

the results of recent OU games, that trend is unlikely to upset most

Texas fans, but there is a disconnect between the “comeback season

of 2013” held up by Brown and the restructuring of the coaching staff.

Understandably, there are many reasons

the Longhorns actually could make 2013 their “comeback” season.

Ash is getting better, statistically the worst defense in program

history played much better than expected in the Alamo Bowl, Texas

only loses nine scholarship seniors and the offensive line will be

the Horns’ most experienced in years. And Texas will finally lose

the the “well, they’re just so young” excuse.

So, which is it? Are we really seeing

the successful culmination of a career? Or is this the beginning of a

peaceful transfer of power, a bloodless coup d’état of the Brown

regime?

I doubt it can be both.